The Judean date palm tree was one of the most common and recognizable tree for people living in the Middle East for thousands of years. 3,000 years ago, people cultivated it for their fruit and for the shade given. The tree was a staple crop in the Kingdom of Judea, noted multiple times in the Old Testament.
But when the Roman Empire marched into the region in 70 AD, forests of the trees were torched in an attempt to starve out the locals. The trees were driven to extinction, all for the sake of conquering a foreign land.
Centuries later, a small stockpile of the seeds was unearthed in Herod the Great’s palace in Israel. They were found in a 2,000 year old clay pot. For 40 years after their discovery, the seeds were kept in a drawer at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv. Then, in 2005, Elaine Solowey, a botanical researcher, planted one to see if it would sprout.
“I assumed the food in the seed would be no good after all that time. How could it be?” said Solowey.
In time, she would be proven wrong. The ancient seed sprouted, producing a sapling the world hasn’t seen for centuries. It is the oldest known seed to germinate and sprout a tree.